Monday, September 17, 2007

Chrysler thrives on being private

Keith Crain is publisher and editor-in-chief of Automotive News.

Automotive News
September 17, 2007 - 12:01 am EST

Jim Press, longtime loyal employee of Toyota, got a call from Cerberus. Probably the top guy at Cerberus made the call.

“We'd like you to consider coming to Chrysler for five to seven years,” the Cerberus man might have said.

“What will it take?

“OK, you've got a deal, and welcome to Chrysler.”

And Jim Press was vice chairman of Chrysler after 37 years at Toyota.

Phil Murtaugh got the next call, in China. They must have made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Murtaugh, one of the Asian superstars, can't go anywhere without the paparazzi following. He was one of General Motors' big losses, as well as SAIC Motor's, where he was working at the time.

Maybe next Chrysler will need someone in Europe. It looks as if just about everyone in the European executive ranks is available.

We don't know what the number was for Press or Murtaugh. We just know that it was plenty. But when you're private, it doesn't matter. Cerberus can go after whomever it wants and offer him or her whatever it takes.

When Ford hired Alan Mulally and gave him a $7.5 million signing bonus (as part of his $20.8 million compensation for the last four months of 2006), there were screams from everywhere. No one's screaming about Chrysler. No one knows. It makes a difference.

But you know it had to be plenty. And those guys just might be worth it.

It's sort of like George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. He can pay more than anyone else.

Now, we know what the upside is for a financially successful Chrysler. We're talking billions, with a capital “B.” A few million here or there isn't going to make a difference between financial failure and success.

All of a sudden, everyone realizes just how important people are going to be. So go out and get the best that money can buy. It doesn't matter what they cost.

And Bob Nardelli looks a lot better as Chrysler CEO now than he did just a couple of weeks ago.

Chrysler and its owner are playing with a different rule book, and good for them.

It's still going to take a lot of hard work, skill, a big pot of cash and plenty of luck. But no one is discounting Chrysler anymore. It is in the game, and it is playing for keeps — at least for a half-dozen years.

The late Sen. Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.”

Chrysler's talking real money.

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